Abhorrent Speech is Still Free Speech

When it comes to the First Amendment, I’m a fundamentalist. First, I believe all other constitutional rights flow from the First. For example, you can’t have a Second Amendment without the First. Freedom of speech has to be fair and truly free for the gun opposition to debate their points and for the NRA to debate theirs. Without that back and forth, neither side could bring out valid points they each have. Laws without debate come out more flawed.

Second, for speech to be truly free it has to be unencumbered. There’s nothing in the First Amendment about speech not being stupid. People will do and say many things I think are outrageous, but that’s my opinion, not a certifiable fact. There is no easy way to determine what is truly over the top vs. just ignorant or offensive.

A local Tea Party group has a parade float depicting an Obama effigy wielding a whip against a prostrate figure known as “future taxpayer”. Not surprisingly, many have condemned it as hateful, racist speech. As someone who finds almost every stance by the Tea Party abhorrent, I tend to agree. However, I’m not sure my opinion would be different, even if someone else were sponsoring it.

It’s About Accountability?
The head of the group that sponsors the float said, “It’s ridiculous when people say it is racism. It has nothing to do with that. We need accountability.” In fact, the local NAACP agrees, “A lot of people will see it in different ways. I don’t see it as being racist.”

I’m not sure how the float makes anyone accountable, so I’m, perhaps, not as forgiving as the local NAACP. But, it doesn’t really matter whether I think its racist. As the NAACP spokesperson said, viva la difference. Whether it is racist depends on your opinion, not on what I think.

But don’t be surprised if someone attacks you as a racist when you’re on thin ice, which is where the floaters seem to be. It’s their opinion and both sides have free rhetorical reign to swing away.

Or, take the recent apology from the Portland, ME Press Herald for a front page, upbeat story on Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan – coming this year on 9/11. Tempers flared. One reader commented, “I don’t want to here [sic] how caring the Muslim religion is on 9/11.”

Fair enough, but I’d wager Muslims are pretty sic [sic] of hearing about Muslim mosques supposedly from hell filled with people no value for human life.

Gutless Apology
The paper took a rather gutless approach, I think, by apologizing for not presenting a story showing the opposing view. Not everything requires an opposing view and no one is obliged to offer one. That’s why some people watch Fox and others watch MSNBC. Not only do those “news” outlets not present opposing views, they frequently and vociferously shut them down whenever possible. Besides, I’d wager the Mainiac reader would’ve been just as offended by the Muslim view, even if a Christian view appeared directly alongside.

As for lies, it’s a tough call – that’s why slander and libel suits are notoriously hard to win. Most cases of this type aren’t about truth and falsehood, but the wide band of subjective truthiness that fills the gulf between them. One person’s “fact” is another’s “opinion” and inconclusively determining where a lie came from is damnably hard. Admissibility tends to default to “free” in the truest form of the word. This is as it should be.

Holding a fundamentalist view of the First is sometimes a retching, clothes pin-on-the-nose  job. You find yourself defending people who can and do say the most crapweaselish things, but even the crapweasels deserve their day. They deserve it because if we limit them today, someone will eventually come along to limit us tomorrow. The day we prohibit abhorrent speech is the day we can kiss the rest of your freedoms goodbye.

Kiss very freely, you understand.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! Stop by for a video of the float described above.




Dear Marty, The First Amendment is Not Optional

The Anti-Mosque That Ain’t a Mosque crowd seems to be going all Sharia on America’s ass. You’d think the possibility – not the certainty mind you – of building a Muslim community center amongst the strip clubs and bars of Manhattan is a worse offense than knocking the WTC down to begin with.

We have idiots closing community centers in Kentucky ostensibly for lack of parking because according to the property owner, Muslims can’t be trusted to adhere to no parking signs. Florida’s Dove World Outreach Center, a violation of truth in advertising laws if there ever was one, is reaching out to Muslims by burning Korans. Now, New Republic editor-in-chief Marty Peretz says Muslims are unworthy of First Amendment protection, presumably regardless of whether they are citizens or not.

Marty the Magnificent Sez…
Says Marty the Magnificent, “…frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Gee Marty, my gut – hell, every fiber of my being – tells me you would abuse First Amendment protections too. No, wait! You already have by suggesting the First Amendment is an option like the automatic transmission on your Ford Crown Vic. The same goes for your toxic brethren like the book burning “Doves” and the spreading community of knotheads elsewhere around the country.

Marty, can you not see the irony of exercising your First Amendment rights by saying someone else should be deprived of theirs? Screeching Doves, can you not see the same by the light of your Constitutional bonfire?

Whether Muslims “raise a fuss” is their call, not yours. To speak or not to speak are both protected rights. Besides, my gut also tells me that condemning their “brotherhood” wouldn’t make one iota of difference in your opinion.

The Lonesome Doves and Tim McVey
And Lonesome Doves, would you be burning Bibles if an inbred clan of Timothy McVey wannabes had rammed the WTC with an airplane instead? I’m an atheist and I’d be quite happy if someone burned all the holy books, regardless of whatever holier than though sect dreamt them up.

But wait! No, I wouldn’t! I believe in the First Amendment.

It isn’t optional because I despise you and what you’re saying. It isn’t optional because some lunkhead’s book isn’t as holy as you believe yours is. It isn’t optional because your gut tells you they don’t value human life. It isn’t optional because they are Muslim, Baptist, or Druid nor because some of their members were bat shit crazy and wanted to kill people for things like, gee, I dunno, disrespecting the Koran (see David Petraeus). In this country, people can say what they want and worship or not worship as they see fit – despite cockamamie faux “wars on Christmas” or people being gay in the privacy of their own homes or carbuncles on the ass of humanity who think their shit is infinitely less odoriferous than others are.


…and the day it becomes so is the day we lose the privilege of calling ourselves American.


Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!




You Know You Might Be a Liberal If…

Note: Turnabout is fair play, so enjoy this companion post to last week’s You Know You Might Be a Tea Partier If… And moderates, your turn will come soon too.

You know you might be a liberal if you:

  • Make protest signs with perfect grammar and spelling, but that quote Camus…in the original French.
  • You’re willing to fight an uphill election battle, but no one understands your commercials.
  • Think of your party’s Big Tent as a canopy for a reception party after a gay wedding.
  • Refer to George W. Bush as the Anti-Christ, but are incensed when the right calls Obama The Messiah™.
  • Protest horrible work conditions for migrant farm workers, hotel maids, and Chinese prison labor…by throwing a $500 per head cheese and wine tasting.
  • Advocate for homeless rights…provided they don’t live in your neighborhood.
  • Want environmental protections for every species on Earth…except those icky bugs and snakes.
  • Drive to a protest about shipping jobs overseas in your BMW.
  • Have a secret desire to be black, but are ashamed that it comes from your mother teaching you they’re terrific dancers.
  • Think Native American lands should be returned to their original owners while forgetting your house stands on what was once a sacred burial site.
  • You don’t own a single American flag pin.
  • Think Keith Olbermann is the only “fair and balanced” newser on TV.
  • Think gun ownership should be forbidden, including all weaponry used by the Armed Forces.
  • Vacation in every foreign nation under the sun, but have never traveled to an adjacent state.
  • Get pissed because Republicans refer to it as the Democrat party instead of the Democratic party.
  • Spell “the” as “teh”.
  • Believe the First Amendment guarantees everyone’s right to free expression, but think “hate speech” a should be illegal.
  • Believe that foreign despots will go away if you ask nicely.
  • Want to declare war on Christmas.
  • Are in favor of building the Ground Zero mosque while arguing with the local planning commission over the amount of traffic the new church being built in your neighborhood will generate.
  • Think of Talking Points Memo as a legitimate news outlet.
  • Don’t grasp why unredacted CIA intelligence isn’t printed in the newspaper every day.
  • Believe you’re an “honorary lesbian” because of that little one-night stand you had while drunk in college.
  • Believe that little one-night stand you had while drunk in college was “fun”, but you’d never do it again in a million years.
  • Want to ban sugar, salt, and fat from foods, but eat bacon-wrapped hors d’ouvers and drink rum and Cokes at your neighbor’s party.
  • Think black-on-black crime is caused entirely by white people.
  • Think everyone in the Midwest is some sort of inbred goob even though you’ve never met anyone outside the Washington, DC metro area.
  • Decry Republicans playing politics while grousing about Obama’s tepid response to criticism.
  • Think Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are qualified to talk about anything having to do with African Americans.
  • Think anyone to the left of Ed Schultz is a crazed wing nut.
  • Really hate it when people don’t refer to liberals as progressives.
  • Think banning all oil drilling by 2011 is the solution to America’s energy problems.
  • Protest human rights violations in Chad without being able to find it on a map.
  • Oppose the death penalty, but also protest the poor conditions in the nation’s prisons.
  • Claim to have lots of gay and black friends, but can’t remember their names when someone asks…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • Support awarding huge damage claims to people who’ve smoked 3 packs a day despite the fact they’ve known smoking is a deadly for their entire adult lives.
  • Believe that Republicans lie and Democrats have inconvenient truths.
  • Complain about the condition of America’s educational system while sending your own kids to private school.
  • Think all Republicans are corrupt and hypocritical.
  • Think Bill Clinton was impeached for a BJ instead of lying to a grand jury.
  • Think Michelle Malkin is cute enough to sleep with, but would never tell anyone because of her politics.
  • Feel inferior if you don’t have a master’s degree.
  • Protest the efforts to repeal the 14th Amendment, but are still pissed that the Equal Rights Amendment didn’t pass.
  • Believe that donating an hour per week teaching an inner city kid how to read is intrinsically more valuable than a wealthy person donating $1000 to the literacy program.
  • Hate being called a socialist.
  • Are a vegan, but hate the taste of tofu.
  • Drink soy milk in your $6 cup of coffee.
  • Think DADT is the biggest problem facing the nation today.
  • Believe Nancy Pelosi is the greatest Speaker in the history of the House.
  • Believe that only white people can be racist.
  • Don’t understand why the Ground Zero mosque is a touchy subject for some people.
  • Decry the loss of newspapers and magazines, but own 4 Kindles.
  • You find this post as funny as You Know You Might Be a Tea Partier If…

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Unpopularity of SCOTUS Citizens United Decision Approaching Constitutional Amendment Levels

Earlier this year, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision wiping out restrictions on corporate expenditures in American elections -- a decision that could open up the door to foreign money flowing into campaigns in this country. As it turns out, according to a Quinnipiac poll out today, voters are not at all happy with the decision.

Voters disapprove 79 - 14 percent of the Supreme Court's January ruling removing limits on the amount corporations and unions could spend attacking or boosting political candidates, with consistently strong opposition across the political spectrum.

These numbers largely jibe with data released earlier this year by Pew, which found 68 percent of Americans disapproving of the decision, while just 17 percent approved. With margins like these, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a constitutional amendment seeking to overturn the decision is out of the question.

But looking more broadly, it is interesting to see the damage the decision has inflicted on the Court. Just last summer, Quinnipiac found the Supreme Court to have a +40 net approval rating, with 62 percent of the country rating the high court positively and just 22 percent rating it negatively. Today, however, the Court's rating has fallen dramatically to just +16 (49 percent approve / 33 percent disapprove) -- a statistically significant fall for the institution. It turns out that conservative judicial activism isn't actually popular with Americans.

SCOTUS Throws Out Corporate Campaign Limits

I'm still reading through the very long opinions, which you can access here, but the Supreme Court of the United States today overturned decades of precedent and, as The New York Times aptly puts it, "a century-old understanding" by throwing out virtually any restrictions on corporate campaign expenditures. This is an exceedingly disappointing decision, one that seriously worries me for the future of democracy in this country. But more after I finish reading all of the concurrences and dissents.

UPDATE from desmoinesdem: Adam B posted excerpts from the decision and the dissents.

The SCOTUS blog posted the complete text of the ruling and linked to many reactions and commentaries.

Election law expert Richard Hasen concludes that the court just killed campaign finance reform:

It is time for everyone to drop all the talk about the Roberts court's "judicial minimalism," with Chief Justice Roberts as an "umpire" who just calls balls and strikes. Make no mistake, this is an activist court that is well on its way to recrafting constitutional law in its image. The best example of that is this morning's transformative opinion in Citizens United v. FEC. Today the court struck down decades-old limits on corporate and union spending in elections (including judicial elections) and opened up our political system to a money free-for-all.

All in all, a depressing day for our sorry excuse for a democracy.


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